||SHECKYmagazine.com HOME||BACK to the Columnist INDEX||JANUARY 2005||
On Easter Sunday, just hours after I had consumed my weight in ham,
I found out over tea and cake that I may be 1/8 Jewish. I say "may be"
1/8 Jewish because I have no way of verifying the authenticity of this story.
My brother, who is indeed a reliable source, was recently told this news by
my father, another reliable source, who learned of this secret many years ago
from my now deceased grandmother. Grandma, however, had a bit of a
drinking problem and by "drinking problem" I don't mean that she
ran out of Manischeiwitz on the second day of Passover. By drinking
problem I mean that if it' s true that she was half-Jewish, then it
certainly wasn't the half that contained her liver. That part was definitely Irish.
So, grandmom--who from now on will affectionately be known as my drunk Bubby-- claimed one night that her father was Jewish but after coming to America decided to change his name and pretend to be Irish. Now, this is where the story actually starts to sound plausible. You see, from what little I do know of my family's history, it would be just like one of my ancestors to show such colossally poor judgement.
"Hmmm, it's the early 1900's...I've just moved to America...I know! I'll pretend to be Irish!"
"Hey, Honey, I'm tired of being part of the most hated group in America. Whaddya say we pretend to be part of the second most hated group in America?"
Imagine the look on my poor great-granpop's face when he turned the corner and saw the sign, No Irish Need Apply.
"But wait," he probably yelled, droppng his faux brogue, "I'm a Jew!"
So, great-granddad--who from now on will affectionately be know as
my dumbass Zadie--married my Irish Protestant great-granmother
(shiksa fever perhaps?) gave birth to a daughter who gave birth to a son
who gave birth to little old me. Hence the 1/8 Jewish part. (Of course, my dad
also gave birth to two other children, who are also alledgedly 1/8 Jewish.
My part-Jewish brother's reaction was priceless: "Oh great," he
deadpanned, "Now I'll be a heathen in two religions.")
If you think about it-- and you simply must think about it-- this 1/8 Jewishness
makes perfect sense. I did, after all, become a standup comic and, in the process,
broke my father's heart because I refused to go to law school. Now doesn't
that sound like something right out of "The Jazz Singer"? Except,
of course, I'm a girl and it's comedy instead of jazz and my dad wasn't a
cantor...but you get the idea.
The problem with claiming my Jewish heritage--besides the fact that it may
not be true--is that finding a Jewish relative has become so trendy these days:
John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright...all have suddenly discovered
grandparents or great-grandparents of the Jewish persuasion. Sure, they
do it to get votes and justify their positions on the Middle East, but still, you
group them all together and it makes being part-Jewish seem like the latest
fad on par with throwing Frisbees and doing the Twist.
But if you think about it again--and you simply must think about it again-- this
might help explain my lifelong attraction to all things Jewish. When I was
little-- and I am not making this up-- my favorite album was the soundtrack from
"Fiddler on the Roof." I would sit in my room and play it over
and over and over again. Eventually--and I am not making this up, either--
somebody bought me the soundtrack from "Godspell." Perhaps
my Scots-Irish family detected a "problem."
My favorite book as a kid? The Chosen.
My favorite singer as a child? Barry Manilow.
My favorite Easter movie when I was young? "The Ten Commandments"
(Hey, I didn't know it wasn't an Easter movie! It came on around Easter! So sue me!)
Is all of this evidence due to nature or nurture? Did I somehow, deep down
in my soul, feel a connection with my Jewish roots or am I just a product of
the liberal seventies? Or do the Jews really control the media and that's why
I thought the "Ten Commandments" was an Easter flick?
I guess I'll never know the answers to any of these questions. But
I do know that if I don't get to the point soon I'll get the reputation as a
Now there's another question for you. If I do decide that I'm 1/8 Jewish,
do I get to tell Jewish jokes? Remember the Seinfeld episode
where Jerry suspects that his dentist has converted to Judaism just so
he could tell Jewish jokes? When Seinfeld was asked if he was offended
as a Jew he said, "No, I'm offended as a comedian." As a
comedian, have I always had the right to tell Jewish jokes? As a 1/8 Jew,
will those jokes now offend me?
And since the Scottish part of me has the reputation for being cheap
how will this reconcile with my new-found stereotype that 1/8 of me controls
the banking industry?
A Jewish friend of mine told me that not all Jews will recognize my
Jewishness anyway. Apparently, being Jewish is passed down through
the mother and only Reform Jews accept Jewish paternal lineage. So
to them, I'm a Jew. To the others, not so much. (It would help if you said
the last two lines while doing a serviceable Jackie Mason impression.)
My brother called me the other day to see how I was enjoying life
as a 1/8 Jew. To be honest, it only took a few days to lose my Jew momentum.
Without a secret handshake or a laminated membership card, I just
don't know what to do with the newfound discovery. Perhaps if all my
Jewish friends throw me a "Welcome" party then I will be able
to get my MoJew back but, for now, claiming to be a 1/8 Jew just seems
like I'm crashing a party when I wasn't invited.
As for next Easter, yes I'll still eat the ham. But maybe I'll eat 1/8 less.
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